Whether the SEC wants them in at this point is unclear. It would be surprising, however, if the league did not want to add two of the top 10 grossing athletics departments in the U.S. Texas is No. 1 at $223.9 million, per USA Today’s 2019 compilation, while Oklahoma comes in at No. 8 ($163.1M).
Whatever the case, it will take a three-quarters majority vote of the league’s presidents – or 11 of 14 – for the two schools to be admitted to the SEC. Whether an actual vote will be taken Thursday is unknown. It does seem more than coincidental, however, that the board of regents of the respective universities in question reportedly have meetings scheduled for Friday.
That said, there is still a bunch to figure out.
“There’s a lot to be determined,” one college athletics administrator familiar with the process said. “It’s not just a bunch of people keeping secrets. It’s a matter of a lot of details have to be worked through. This is all new. Right now, all there has been is a bunch of speculation.”
Here are but of few of the issues:
Big 12 agreement
Chief among the problems facing Texas and Oklahoma is their current grant-of-rights TV agreement with the Big 12. That deal runs through June 2025. It seems unlikely that the SEC, which just inked in December a new $3 billion deal with Disney/ESPN that is supposed to activate in 2024, would want to wait until the fall of 2025 for Oklahoma and Texas to join their ranks. To do so before then would therefore require a buyout. That would cost at least $75-80 million per school, according to published reports. Some say more.
Then, again, if Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 is as detrimental for that conference as some predict, there might not be a contract to honor. The Big 12 might not survive an OU-Texas departure.
“They’ll let them rip themselves up first,” one industry expert said. “If it ends up that the Big 12 is gone, then they don’t have to worry about honoring a contract.”
More changes coming?
How the Big 12 survives without Texas and Oklahoma is one of the great unknowns. The league could continue for now with eight remaining teams or reach outside its ranks to bring in replacements. But it does not appear the conference will not go down without a fight.
On Wednesday, the Big 12 sent a cease-and-desist letter to ESPN, according to Yahoo Sports reporter Pete Thamel. That letter demands that the sports network stop “all actions that may harm the conference and its members and that it not communicate with the Big 12 Conference’s existing members.”
While that may or may not delay progress, it won’t change the bottom line that initiated these schools’ departures in the first place. The Big 12 distributed $409 million to its membership in 2020, according to ESPN. In contrast, the SEC distributed $769 million last year. Obviously, that number would go up under the new Disney deal and rise even more with the addition of Oklahoma and Texas.
As for the Big 12′s survival, it could look to the American Athletic Conference for replacements such as Central Florida, Cincinnati, Houston and Memphis. But that fast-growing league just as well could lure some Big 12 teams its way. Meanwhile, the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 aren’t likely to stand by idle while the SEC gets stronger.
How might a 16-team SEC look?
Divisions, pods or none of the above. Those are the options being discussed. The SEC could stick with the Eastern and Western divisions it currently has, but the scheduling model would have to change, at the least, and perhaps the configuration of teams within the divisions.
An obvious geographical solution would be to add Oklahoma and Texas to the West and move Alabama and Auburn to the East and Missouri to the West. But geography seems to have little to do with past conference realignments. Look no further than Missouri in the SEC East or West Virginia being in the Big 12.
Then there’s the number of games. Presently the league plays eight conference games, which includes the six divisional opponents, one permanent cross-divisional opponent and then a rotating cross-divisional opponent. But eight-team divisions would require seven intradivisional games and either the elimination of the permanent cross-division opponent or the rotating opponents.
More likely, the SEC would need to increase the number of conference games. Many coaches have favored a nine-conference game model, and the league played 10 during last year’s pandemic-altered season.
Four, four-team pods would work well in such a nine-SEC-game scenario. Teams could play the three teams from their own pod, then two each from the other three on a rotation basis. How those pods would be configured likely will initiate a long, intense internal debate.
With no divisions, SEC teams likely would have to declare a handful of permanent conference opponents, then rotate through the rest of the league’s teams until all others have been played.
No matter the scenario, more conference games seems inevitable. In a 12-game regular season, it could be 10 conference games, one regular non-conference rival and one “other.”
What’s does it mean?
If the SEC votes to expand, it’s unlikely to end there in college football. That could well be the first step of a long-anticipated formation of super conferences that break away from the NCAA to form their own college football alliance.
Currently, the ACC and Big Ten appear to be well-positioned also to expand. That would leave the Big 12, Pac-12 or another conference such as the American Athletic to battle for inclusion in a 64-team, upper-tier college football league.
“If you analyze this, Greg Sankey is not the type of guy to come out and give a rib shot to the NCAA without a very calculated reason behind it,” said Vince Thompson, founder of Atlanta’s MELT sports marketing firm. “In the broader context, what he’s trying to do is undo the NCAA and then solidify his position of basically being the czar of college football. He has said that’s what somebody needed to do all along.”